Welcome to the Neighbourhood. Short Story

Brenda closed the door over and turned to look at her new place, nothing had been put away yet, it was all still in boxes but there was no rush on tackling that. The apartment was spacious and filled with lots of natural light, the light blue walls were soothing. The rent was cheap and considering it was already furnished, it was a downright bargain. Brenda sat at the kitchen table, she wanted a cup of tea but she wasn’t sure which box the kettle had gone into. She had tried to organise things as she packed them but Todd had insisted on helping and about halfway through he became bored and just started chucking things into boxes. She shook her head, he could be annoying, but she would miss him, hell she already did and she had only been gone for five hours. She took a slow, deep breath, they were only a three hour drive away, it wasn’t that far. Maybe next weekend she could pop back for a visit. No. She wouldn’t do that, she promised herself she’d wait at least a month. She looked over the boxes again and sighed, she might as well get started.

She finally closed over the last empty box, she was done, everything was unpacked and in its semi-right place. It had only taken two days, most of which were spent procrastinating or having a quick cry. She felt so foolish when the tears came. It wasn’t that big of a deal, living alone in a new city. Plenty of people did it every day. She filled the kettle with water and stuck it on, she would have a nice cup of tea and relax a little. She still had another week before she was starting work, plenty of time to explore the area and get to know the place. The building she was staying in was much nicer than she expected considering the price of it, she had also hoped to get to know some of her neighbours, but she had yet to encounter any in the hall and it felt weird to go knock on their doors. Besides that it was still early in the day, so most of them would be in work. Just as the kettle clicked there was a knock on the door, Brenda opened her door and found a woman standing on the other side, beaming at her. The woman was average height, Brenda guessed she was in her mid fifties, but it was hard to tell. The woman had long, silvery-grey hair and few wrinkles on her plump face. She was dressed in a long skirt and a cardigan, she reminded Brenda of her own grandmother from when she was a young girl.

“Hello dear, I’m your new neighbour, I live in 204 and I just wanted to welcome you to the building.” Still smiling, she offered Brenda the plate in her hands. “It’s not much, just a small welcome gift, I hope you like apples.” Brenda took the plate from the woman and smiled, “Thank you, it smells delicious. The kettle just finished boiling if you’d like a cup of tea or coffee?”
“Oh, that would be wonderful, thank you.”
Brenda stood back and allowed the woman to enter, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m Gladys.”
“Well, it’s lovely to meet you Brenda.”
Brenda put the pie onto the counter, the smell of it already filling her apartment. She quickly filled two mugs with tea bags and water and brought them to the table, then she grabbed out two plates, forks and a knife.

“Are you new to the city?”
“Yeah, I just moved here, first time away from home actually.”
“Oh dear, you must be finding it a bit tough. Don’t worry, I did the same when I was your age, it gets easier. Besides you strike me as someone who always lands on their feet.”
“Well, I have been quite lucky, I was offered a job here just out of college, the pay is good and the experience will be great.”
Brenda started to cut the pie, immediately the scent of cinnamon and vanilla filled the air, making her mouth water. “This pie smells amazing.”
“Oh thank you dear, old family recipe, do you bake?”
“No, not since I was a girl. My grandmother was teaching me when she passed away. My mum was never really a great cook so it just kind of slipped away.”
“I think you’d pick it up quickly, if you ever need a hand, or want to borrow anything, feel free to ask.”
Brenda smiled and placed the pie onto the plates.

“I’d say I’m the first to welcome you to the building.”
“Yeah, I haven’t seen anyone else at all.”
“Oh, don’t take it personally, the man across from you works nights, I never see him, most everyone else is gone early and back late. It’s a quiet building and it’s lovely once you get a bit used to it.”
Brenda chuckled, “Yeah, the empty hallways are a bit creepy.”
She took a bit of the pie on her fork and ate it, “Oh my god. I think this is the best pie I have ever eaten.”
“Thank you dear” Gladys smiled, it lit up her whole face.
“No seriously,” Brenda took another bite, “I would eat this for every meal if I could.”
“Well, I am right next door, though your thighs will probably hate me in a month or two if it’s all you ate!”
Brenda finished off the rest of her slice in three quick bites and cut herself another, smaller piece. This one she ate slowly as they chatted. Each bite was an explosion of flavour and nostalgia, something of it all reminded her of her own grandmother. How they’d sit and eat what ever they had made that day, talking in her warm kitchen, her grandmother sipping tea, Brenda sipping a tea cup full of juice.

When Gladys left after a few hours of chatting Brenda felt so much better and there was still pie left over. Gladys had insisted she keep the rest of it, once she returned the plate when she was done of course. After she closed the door Brenda went back and using a fork scooped up another mouthful of pie, it really was amazing. She chewed for a moment, savouring it, then swallowed.

Brenda cleared her throat, then scooped up the last piece of pie. She set the fork down on the table and looked at the empty plate, longing for more to appear. She had already scooped up the bits of filling that had oozed out of it, there was nothing left but crumbs. She took the plate and put it in the sink, she would need to wash it before returning it. Perhaps she could even convince Gladys to give her the recipe for the pie, she knew it would be a complete and utter hit at the next family gathering. Gladys had said nothing about it being a secret, but Brenda had gotten that impression from her, still no harm in asking for it. Brenda cleared her throat again, it felt a little mucousy. She sighed, if she was going to get sick now was the time to do it, at least she would have a few days to get over it before work, once work hit she would be too busy to get sick.

The next morning her throat was swollen and sore, it felt like something was wedged in the back of it. She had a look at her throat in the mirror and decided she didn’t need to go to the doctor just yet. It was painful, but she could still eat and drink, albeit with little twinges as she swallowed.

Brenda spent the morning bundled up on the couch and watching TV, occasionally she would have coughing fits, great hacking coughs but she never brought up any phlegm. After a particularly bad round there was a knock at the door, groaning Brenda stood up and answered.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but I heard you coughing, are you feeling ok?”
“Yeah, I think I’m just coming down with something. I’m sorry for bothering you.”
“Oh, it’s no bother at all, I just wanted to check in and see if you needed anything before I go shopping.”
“Oh, that’s so sweet, thank you. I think I’m ok for everything though.”
“Are you sure? Well, I’ll tell you what, don’t make dinner for yourself, I’ll bring you some nice hot soup.”
“Oh no, please don’t go to all that trouble.”
“It’s no trouble at all!”
“Well,” Brenda paused as another coughing fit came on, each one seemed worse than the last and it was difficult for her to get her breath back. Gladys rushed in and lead her over to the couch, “Sit down for a minute, I’ll grab you a glass of water.”
When Gladys passed her the glass of cold water Brenda quickly swallowed a large mouthful, it stung but after a second the coldness was soothing.

“I’m sorry about that, thank you.”
“No bother at all dear” Gladys smiled, “I saw the plate in the sink, I’m glad you liked my pie so much, I’ll make you another one soon, once your feeling better.”
“There’s really no need.”
“Not at all, besides it’ll give you something to look forward too.”

Brenda cleared her throat, “Well thank you, though really don’t worry if you don’t have time or anything.”
Gladys smiled at her again, “Don’t worry, I have plenty of time these days.”
Brenda coughed again, but the coughing didn’t get any better, each one wracked her body, she couldn’t get enough air into her lungs, she reached out to Gladys but couldn’t speak, the world became grey around the edges and everything started to spin. Everything turned on its side and a second later there was only darkness.

Gladys looked down at Brenda’s body, the coughing had stopped and her breathing had returned to a slow, steady rhythm. Good. There was always a worry of something going wrong, but the young ones were always that bit more resilient. Carefully she sliced off a lock of Brenda’s hair, then she used the knife to cut the tip of Brenda’s finger, letting a drop of blood fall to the floor. The entire building seemed to shiver. Smiling Gladys stood and left the apartment. Someone would find Brenda eventually, the poor girl who choked to death, all alone in her new apartment.

About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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